Beyond the magic – growing our understanding of societal metamorphosis

Beyond the magic – growing our understanding of societal metamorphosis

European School of Governance (EUSG) and
Tamkeen Community Foundation for Human Development (Tamkeen),
joint research note #210601 by Karima Kadaoui (Tamkeen) and Louis Klein (EUSG)

Keywords: Societal metamorphosis, systems change; open research ecosystem, societal development, metamorphic transformation, learning ecosystem, community development, humanising systems, systemic inquiry, social innovation, systemic impact, metamorphic niche, locus of value, human potential

Societal metamorphosis is a term emerging from Tamkeen’s societal development practice. It describes a development practice and approach that is not only constantly referred to as magical in its manifestations yet also transcends the prevalent approaches to systems change. In a socio-systemic complexity evaluation the Tamkeen community foundation for human development in Tangier, Morocco, and the European School of Governance (EUSG) in Berlin, Germany, are engaging in a systemic inquiry initiated research into societal metamorphosis. Exploring Tamkeen as a body of co-reflected experience, together with all the partners who are co-creating it, opens the possibility to grow a shared understanding of societal development and the silent nature of metamorphic transformation beyond the magic and the prevalent frames of knowing. Growing from metamorphic niches societal metamorphosis realises a humanising society.

“The houses are the same, the streets are the same and the people are the same, nothing has changed, and everything has changed.” Abdeslam Benhamza does not contain his emotion when he shares the story of Zouitina, his neighbourhood community in the outskirts of Tangier in the North of Morocco. “… before, violence used to bring us together, now it is love and we realised that all the community initiatives that we have co-created are nothing but a reason to remain together…”

Allal Al Fassi is a high school of almost 3000 students near the Zouitina neighbourhood. It used to be perceived as a major problem in the education system and a security problem for the authorities. The school had a strong identity defined by its opposition to the outer world mirroring the experienced stigma from its environment. “With Tamkeen, we have found the chemical formula to something that is magical. We have humanised our school” says Rachid Meggaro its now-retired pedagogical director, with a smile. “When we heard what was happening in Zouitina we asked Tamkeen to come. The first workshop with some of our toughest students puzzled us, they seemed transformed.” “With Tamkeen”, Rachid Meggaro continues, “…  we focused on our potential, we made visible the small things that carried the promise to manifest that potential. Today the self-perception has changed, and the school is recognised by the system as a model. And in the midst of the Corona, we have realised the resilience that our community has grown.”

Tamkeen is referred to in many ways. There is the Tamkeen community foundation for human development, a registered Moroccan NGO with a team of facilitators coming mainly from the neighbourhoods of Tangier. They are the people Rachid Meggaro talked about. They co-create and co-facilitate the Tamkeen practice and approach with the partners of Tamkeen. Together with their partners, they preserve the essence of Tamkeen. Then there is Tamkeen as a societal development approach and practice which can be described as an experience-based, relationship-oriented, co-created, co-facilitated, process of inquiry, learning, and understanding, embedded in epistemic humility, trusting our human potential and our humanity, realising the existentiality of love. And finally, there is the meaning of the Arabic word Tamkeen. Ibrahim Chafhi, a lawyer and doctor in governance, and a member of the Tamkeen team and the open research ecosystem, explored its etymology in depth.

The Arabic word Tamkeen تمكين is much richer and deeper than its usual translation into English as ‘empowerment’ would suggest. Tamkeen describes and transcends the understanding of the potential of the safe spaces where the thrivable growth of the seed resides. The word Tamkeen coheres a semantic field that grows from the root ‘mkn’. Almost tautologically Tamkeen is often chosen as the word to illustrate the meaning of the root ‘mkn’ which is to be found in words like Iimkan إمكان (potential), Momkin ممكن (possible), Iimkania إمكانية (possibility), Amkanyh امكانيه (to be possible), Makin ماكين (safe, strong, firm, well-founded), Makan مكان (place, space, venue, locus). Tamkeen could be thought of as the potential of a space or better a field to foster the desirable, immanent development of a seed. However, the meaning of the word Tamkeen transcends the immanence of the ecological niche and the seed. Tamkeen refers in a deeper sense to the desirable realisation of potential in a fostering field and the yielding mutually arising potential. In this Tamkeen seems to be the perfect term to describe the gentle confluence of co-creation and co-facilitation of the various partners in the emergence of Tamkeen as a societal development approach and practice, and the metamorphic transformation it realises.

When the Swiss Drosos Foundation joined as one of the funding partners in 2010 they had an immediate feeling for Tamkeen and trusted the team and the potential of the approach. In the following years, three independent scientific evaluations informed and formed not only the partnership of Drosos and the Tamkeen organisation but also the further development of the Tamkeen approach and practice. The third of those formative evaluations started in 2019. Initially, this socio-systemic complexity evaluation was concerned with the social innovation and the systemic impact of the Tamkeen approach and practice within an accelerated velocity of its diffusion. It was called a readiness check back then.

Tamkeen and its partners have over the years cocreated the conditions for the emergence of community-based learning ecosystems overcoming the boundaries within and between communities from different societal systems (neighbourhood, school, teacher community of practice, university faculty, culture and art). With this accelerated velocity of the diffusion of the Tamkeen approach and practice came questions for the Tamkeen team: How can we grow our shared understanding of the societal metamorphosis and the diffusion we experience?  How could the metamorphic transformation which emerged and grew from the various metamorphic niches in society be facilitated and governed? How could the coherence be maintained, and the essence of the process preserved? How to talk about silent transformations without being in the way of this continuous natural flow? How to govern emergent governance? How do diffusion and dissolvence of Tamkeen articulate, cohere and coalesce over time?

Metamorphic niche is the term Mohamed El Mechrafi chose when co-reflecting with his team the experiences of metamorphic transformation at the Education and Training Regional Academy of Tangier Tetuan Alhoceima, the education system’s authorities in the North of Morocco, had. In 2020, at the International Conference for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) in Marrakech, Morocco, he and his team presented their experiences with the Tamkeen approach and practice in the transformational development of the education system for the first time on an international stage. Not only the audience was excited. The officials from the Moroccan Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research, who attended the conference took further steps in exploring Tamkeen and the regional experiences in the education system. In February 2020, the top 30 executives of the ministry gathered in Rabat for a Tamkeen kick-off workshop to explore the conditions for the possibility to integrate the Tamkeen Approach in the further transformation of the Moroccan education system. As one of the results, the initial evaluation grew along the questions coming from the executives into full-fledged scientific research addressing how the Tamkeen approach and practice could be governed and evaluated in the education system.

Addressing magic and the existentiality of love in the context of scientific research is a challenge. Even in the contexts of community development and human development, it feels unfamiliar as it includes the commonly excluded. Tamkeen was never at ease with being called magical, however, it addresses love with ease, advocating for the inseparability of science and love. Certainly, the Arabic language facilitates this ease, nevertheless, exploring and trusting our human potential and our humanity, be it in poetry or arts, philosophy or science, will eventually guide us to meet love and its existential unconditionality. The dislocated locus of value of the ubiquitous culture of achievement returns to the immanence of being and becoming. Addressing love reveals the limitations of contemporary research frameworks and the prevalent scientific language. Yet, accepting this challenge does not only allow embracing love in science, acknowledging its inseparability, but it also facilitates our understanding of research and science as expressions of our humanity. Or as Fatima’s father, one of the elders in the Zouitina neighbourhood, addressing the necessary coherence of experiences, says: “What you do is good if I feel in it the heart that I feel in my community.”

Initially, the scientific exploration of the understanding of Tamkeen was methodologically arranged as a systemic inquiry process. In the tradition of critical narrative theory, a discourse praxis analysis was looking into the lived stories of description and self-description that make the Tamkeen narrative. However, scientifically exploring an experience-based, relationship-oriented, co-created, co-facilitated, process of inquiry, learning, and understanding, embedded in epistemic humility, trusting our human potential and our humanity, realising the existentiality of love, does not only inform and form the concern in focus, but it also comes with far-reaching implications for the research itself: its focus shifts from knowledge to understanding.

Tamkeen does not serve as a study case, it is an invitation to participate in a co-created and co-facilitated research ecosystem. The role of the researcher changes, becoming a mirror to the mirror. Though systems and complexity sciences can serve as an additional meta-framework, epistemic humility prevails. This is not grounded theory. It is not about knowing and knowledge, it is about a process of inquiry, learning, and understanding. In this epistemic humility, Tamkeen is its own meta-process. It is growing our understanding of societal development and metamorphic transformation as well our understanding of our understanding.

Understanding, however, is always embodied understanding. And when we talk about the mirror to the mirror, we acknowledge and recognise that in the research the sensitive resonance of the people involved is as well a sensitive resonance between embodied understandings which reflect, inform, and form each other in an emergent, mutually arising interplay. Shared understanding grows from the in-between. Instead of objectifying people and relationships for the sake of objective science, growing a shared understanding rehumanises science. It does not transcend sciences, it, so to speak, re-naturalises it and acknowledges its contextuality in the interconnectedness and interdependence in the flow of the world. And in the most beautiful way, it demystifies the magic. Where understanding grows, the magic goes. Magic dissolves in the shared understanding of our human potential and our humanity.

The joint research in Tamkeen is overcoming the competition of ideas and facilitates growing a shared understanding. It explores how from metamorphic niches a humanising society manifests and flourishes. It does not focus on outcomes and achievements. It explores the various manifestations of growing a shared understanding as embodied expressions of our human potential and our humanity. Tamkeen learns with its partners to remain in epistemic humility and does not arrive at any form of enlightenment or truth. Consequently, it is difficult to put Tamkeen in any box labelled project, neither a research project nor a development project. Tamkeen does not yield to the business logic of venture philanthropy. Tamkeen grows a body of co-reflected experience that reflects itself but does not translate into a body of knowledge. Though in their essence all Tamkeen processes are the same, in practice all Tamkeen processes are as different as the people that make those community-based learning ecosystems.

The concept of scaling in its traditional mental representation becomes meaningless in the Tamkeen approach. The usual pressure to scale, that brings the temptation of forcefulness, dissolves. The softness of the Tamkeen Approach allows an organic growth and a flowing movement of resonance, without compromising effectiveness and soundness. The scaling concept dissolves into the facilitation of a process of diffusion. Tamkeen diffused from the Zouitina neighbourhood to a university teacher training program to the Allal Al Fassi high school, from the community-based learning ecosystems into the education system, from metamorphic niches into a humanising society, from Morocco onto a global stage.

The open research ecosystem that started with the Tamkeen community foundation and the European School of Governance is part of this diffusion. It is already reflected in the language and conceptual discussion of the publications of the European School of Governance, e.g. on mind shift or community-based learning ecosystems. It will be manifested in the final report on the socio-systemic complexity evaluation. However, the report and further publications on societal metamorphosis will just be scientifically reflected snapshots of Tamkeen’s growing body of co-reflected experience. They will not claim objective knowledge or arrive at any specifiable end. They are an invitation to an open research ecosystem. They are points of departure for a further growing of our understanding of societal metamorphosis and a humanising society, of science as an expression of our humanity and the embodiment of our understanding, and of our understanding of the existentiality of love.  


For more information on Tamkeen and the open research ecosystem connect to the authors at:

Karima Kadaoui

Louis Klein

Tamkeen Community Foundation for Human Development